“I needed this yesterday!”
Ever heard that from a customer before? Though tongue-in-cheek, it reveals something true about overall buying expectations in today’s society: customers often want something ASAP and expect orders to arrive quickly. And when this doesn’t happen, the customer gets annoyed or even looks for business elsewhere.
This shift in expectations has put lead times under the microscope. As an ecommerce company, you can’t expect to thrive with lengthy lead times. Advancements in supply chain technology have led to faster standard fulfillment and delivery times, so your supply chain must prioritize lead time reduction to stay relevant and keep your customers happy. Plus, shorter lead times will give you an advantage over your slower competitors.
So how can you emphasize lead time reduction in your supply chain? Let’s find out.
Implement These Five Lead Time Reduction Strategies
Partner with Domestic (and Even Local) Suppliers
Today, ecommerce companies consider using international or overseas suppliers as part of their retail strategy to reduce costs. Though at times less expensive, working with foreign suppliers can take weeks for your inventory to arrive, which does not help with lead time reduction. This also presents a logistical challenge when managing returns or dealing with faulty products.
When you can, prioritize domestic suppliers to achieve lead time reduction. You can even partner with local suppliers willing to compete on price to reclaim weeks on your standard lead time (and speed up your order fulfillment process). For an easy lead time reduction strategy, partnering with domestic suppliers is a great starting point.
Kick Unreliable Suppliers to the Curb and Consolidate
With today’s customers less willing to wait for their orders, you don’t have time to struggle with suppliers who are late or provide subpar products. Instead, consistently evaluate your suppliers and eliminate the ones that regularly slow you down.
Cutting ties with poor quality suppliers also allows you to consolidate your suppliers, which also helps with lead time reduction. Supplier consolidation cuts down on the extra time it takes to manage multiple vendor relationships and purchase orders. It also gives you more buying power and strengthens your established supplier relationships.
Communicate Well with Your Suppliers AND Your Customers
Communication is a major component of lead time reduction, as it so often is with other aspects of business. You need to communicate well with your suppliers to maintain shorter lead times. So what does this look like? For starters, it’s a good idea to share your demand forecasts with your (now consolidated) suppliers to help them efficiently prepare for future orders, especially if they’re larger than normal. Be sure to communicate your expectations to suppliers, and you can even provide KPIs and incentivize them with bonuses if they deliver your orders early.
As you consider lead time reduction, your organization should also prioritize regular customer communication. It’s important to keep your customers updated on the status of their orders. This means sending out order notifications so you can properly manage their expectations. Customers are more likely to stay loyal as a result of your efforts.
Automate, Automate, Automate
Let’s face it: if you’re still writing down customer orders by hand, or tracking manually in a spreadsheet, it’s time to take a long look in the mirror. In today’s technological age, automation is vital for lead time reduction. This means your order processing workflows should be automated, such as your inventory management system.
Automating your ordering system helps you avoid time-consuming errors, reduces price discrepancies, cuts down on manual entry, and keeps all departments on the same page with order details. You can also easily keep track of your orders, allowing you to communicate their statuses to your customers, too. Just think of all the time you’re saving with automation!
Streamline Your Overall Operations
To improve lead time reduction, you need to take an honest look at your entire operations. Where do you see bottlenecks? Are there certain processes that can be completed simultaneously to save time? Can you reduce handoffs between departments? Answering these questions will help you streamline your operations and eliminate inefficiencies that are slowing you down.
Make Lead Time Reduction Your Competitive Advantage with Smart Warehousing
It’s clear that lead time reduction is necessary to survive in today’s consumer landscape, but what if you could actually make it your competitive advantage? By partnering with a trusted ecommerce 3PL, it can become one of the hallmarks of your company.
At Smart Warehousing, we provide omnichannel fulfillment solutions, nationwide warehousing, inventory management technology, and more to keep your lead times short and your customers consistently choosing you over your competitors. Contact us today to learn how we can help you with lead time reduction.